- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 17

The Aiken Standard on voting in the South Carolina presidential primaries:

It’s time to cast your vote.

Those of you registered to vote in Saturday’s Republican primary, and the Democratic primary on Feb. 27, need to exercise your basic rights as an American and get out and vote.

There are elections coming this year on the county, state and national level that will shape policy in the United States for the next several years - four years at least.

America will choose its next president this year, and every American should let their voice be heard at the ballot box as to who they think that person should be.

There is no reason not to get out and vote.

The voter registration deadline for the June primaries is May 14, and the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 8 general election is Oct. 8.

If you aren’t registered to vote, do so. While you may be too late to vote in the South Carolina primaries, there will be numerous opportunities to voice your opinion at the ballot box over the next several months, up to and including the general election on Nov. 8.

If you are registered, make it a point to get out and cast your ballot.

Men and women of all races throughout time have fought and died for your basic fundamental freedom to vote.

Voting is a privilege unique to Americans where all men and women are created equal, as is their vote.

Women, and all minorities were restricted in their right to vote. In early U.S. history, most states allowed only free male adult property owners - of any ethnicity - to vote. Women could vote in New Jersey, provided they could meet the property requirement, and in some local jurisdictions in other northern states. Freed slaves could vote in four states. Initially, men without property, and women, were largely prohibited from voting. By the time of the U.S. Civil War, most white men were allowed to vote regardless of property ownership.

Significant and historic voting amendments are sprinkled throughout our history.

Following the Civil War, the 15th Amendment eliminated race as an legal obstacle to vote: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The 15th Amendment was passed by Congress on Feb. 26, 1869, and took effect after being ratified by states on Feb. 3, 1870.

The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1919: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any on account of sex.”

The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified by states, taking effect on Aug. 18, 1920.

The voting age lowered from 21 years of age to 18 in 1971, with the passing of the 26th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

The 26th Amendment was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971 and ratified by states, going into effect on July 1, 1971.

An American’s right to vote has been modified, upgraded and changed throughout U.S. history in an effort to ensure the voice of all voters are heard equally.

When you cast your vote this year, remember what other Americans have endured so you would be able to do this.

Voting isn’t just your right, it’s your civic duty as an American.

It would be a crime to let the blood, sweat and tears of those who have gone before us spill in vain.

Online:

http://www.aikenstandard.com/

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Feb. 15

The Post and Courier on plastic in the Charleston Harbor:

Seven tons. That’s how much plastic a study from The Citadel estimates is breaking down in Charleston Harbor right now.

It’s bad enough that so much trash is littering a body of water so important to local commerce, recreation and ecology.

But according to The Citadel researchers, natural processes may be turning those tons of plastic into a serious health risk to marine animals - and potentially humans too.

Sun, waves and other processes break down larger pieces of plastic into smaller bits, some of which are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Those tiny pieces, which are broadly referred to as microplastics, can be eaten by animals like shrimp or periwinkles and make their way up the food chain.

Aside from the obvious dangers to marine animals that ingest microplastics, their presence in shrimp, fish and other sources of food poses an unknown risk to human health.

Tackling one source of the problem, the federal government banned plastic microbeads earlier this month. The tiny beads had been used as abrasives in face washes, toothpastes and other cosmetic and hygiene products, but trillions of them end up in rivers, lakes and coastal waters each year.

Banning microbeads was unquestionably the right move, but it’s not likely to make a big dent in the larger problem of plastics clogging the planet’s waters.

And the problem is very large.

A recent, widely-publicized study from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit promoting sustainable economic practice, and the World Economic Forum estimates that at least 8 million metric tons of plastics are dumped into earth’s oceans every year.

That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic emptying into the ocean every minute around the clock.

And as the world’s population continues to grow and more people move out of extreme poverty, the amount of plastic being improperly disposed each year is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades.

To compound those alarming statistics, other recent studies have found microscopic particles of plastic in drinking water, juices and even beer.

Scientists aren’t yet sure exactly how drinking or eating microplastics affects human health in the short or long term, but there is plenty of cause for concern.

“Microplastics have the potential to both sorb and desorb chemicals in the marine environment; these chemicals may be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic,” states a recent report generated from an expert discussion hosted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Indeed, some plastics contain toxic or carcinogenic chemicals like bisphenol A, phthalates and dioxin that can be released when they are heated or broken down. And small pieces of plastic have been shown to absorb other toxic chemicals, including by-products of coal-fired power plants and industrial flame retardants, from water.

In other words, the seven tons of plastic in Charleston harbor and the 8 million tons per year that enter waters around the world are a potentially serious public health threat.

Fortunately, there are ways all of us can help tackle the problem.

Communities and individuals can make an extra effort to recycle more plastic, for example. And people can reduce unnecessary plastic consumption by choosing products with minimal packaging and using reusable bags and other items instead of disposable alternatives.

Charleston’s waters are critical to the region’s economic prosperity and quality of life. Plastic trash has no place in such an invaluable natural resource.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com/

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Feb. 11

The State newspaper on funding for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control:

Rivers that aren’t being monitored often enough for us to know whether the fish are safe to eat. Air-monitoring equipment that’s so broken-down that officials don’t know whether it’s safe to issue permits for new industry. Underground storage tanks and abandoned gold mines that aren’t being cleaned up to stop gasoline and acid and metals from leaching into the groundwater. And the giant hazardous waste dump on the shore of Lake Marion that we can’t even monitor properly, much less shore up to prevent water contamination of unimaginable proportions.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control - the agency charged with making sure we have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe and that the people who cook our meals and provide our medical care don’t infect us - says it doesn’t have the money to do its job. We slashed its budget from $169 million in 1998 to $107 million today. That’s a 37 percent reduction. A 37 percent reduction that doesn’t even factor in the inflation and growing population that make it cost more to do the job the agency was doing eight years ago. Yet we didn’t reduce what we expected the agency to do.

We saw rather dramatically the result of such cuts in October, when the floods washed out dams that hadn’t been inspected as they should have been or repaired as they ought to have been, because DHEC didn’t have the inspection staff or the enforcement staff to make sure our public-safety laws were obeyed.

If DHEC is spending money wastefully - and any bureaucracy is going to, whether it’s in the public sector or the private sector - then it absolutely is appropriate to try to get that under control. And to the extent that this is what former DHEC Director Catherine Templeton did as she oversaw the defunding of the agency (the budget dropped as low as $83 million at one point), we applaud her work.

But as The State’s Sammy Fretwell reports, Ms. Templeton’s successor, Catherine Heigel, has told the Legislature she needs an additional $35 million just to cover the basics. That still would be $27 million less than the agency received in 1998, when there were fewer people and businesses in South Carolina and everything (except maybe gasoline) cost less.

We’ve seen no reason to believe that Ms. Heigel, a former Duke Energy executive who was hand-picked by Gov. Nikki Haley to run the agency, is a spendthrift, or a shill for the bureaucracy. It’s more reasonable to think she’s a professional who put her reputation on the line and then discovered that the agency she inherited simply does not have the resources to do the job state law requires it to do. As she told lawmakers last month, it is her job to at least make them aware of the problems - which a lot of people believe Ms. Templeton declined to do for political reasons.

Even Gov. Haley has requested an $18 million budget increase, which suggests there’s some serious underfunding, given her preference for cutting taxes to paying for government services.

We can debate whether the state should be in the business of inspecting the strength of dams and the purity of river water and the safety of restaurants and whether it should limit how much pollution manufacturers can spew into the air and take on the task of cleaning up hazardous sites that have been abandoned by bankrupt owners. But there should be no debate on this: Once the state decides to do those things, it is obliged to do them. Well.

DHEC isn’t the only agency that sustained massive cuts to its funding without corresponding cuts to its responsibilities, and it’s not the only one that is still struggling. The Department of Social Services leaps to mind, and there are others, and our Legislature needs to handle them the same way it needs to handle DHEC:

If the state is not going to guarantee that the water is safe to drink, it needs to let people know that they drink it at their own risk. If the state is not going to hold companies to the pollution standards set in state law and regulations, it needs to just stop spending our money on a program that promises to do that but doesn’t.

We believe the state ought to be working to protect the public health, by regulating how much our environment can be despoiled and making sure people who are paid to handle our food and our medicines are doing so safely, and we expect that most South Carolinians feel the same way. That means we have to pay for the equipment and the people who do that important work.

Online:

http://www.thestate.com/

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